Margarita Romanovich explains how USE-IT Maps enable us to avoid the must-see tourist traps and experience local life
How do I stop looking like a tourist? What’s the local snack at 3 am? How many kisses do you give when you greet someone? Do people really sunbathe in the graveyard? USE-IT has an answer to all of these.
The Travel industry is changing. People are now seeking more authentic experiences and a deeper connection with the places they visit. Online peer-to-peer travel advice platforms, such as Trip Advisor, are gaining their global presence and popularity. The ‘democratisation’ of travel has taken a step further with more travellers immersing themselves in Couchsurfing, Airbnb and ‘Dine with a Local’ initiatives. Following this trend, and to my delight, I have discovered USE-IT maps, which have not only prepared all the local tips and tricks for people like me but also made it fun, trendy and enjoyable to explore.
Inspired by the 70s low-budget info desk for wandering hippies in Copenhagen, USE-IT EUROPE was established in Ghent in 2008 as an initiative that aimed to deliver local secrets to young travellers. The network has substantially expanded around Europe with maps available for 41 cities and 5 more under development. In my interview with USE-IT’s editor-in-chief, Nicolas Marichal explained that the initiative to start a new USE-IT always comes from the locals and is usually supported by local authorities and carried out by local volunteers. This explains why you can see the maps for the cities that you might never have heard of, such as Timisoara, Eberswalde or Olomouc.
USE-IT EUROPE acts as a quality label requiring all maps to have four main ingredients: local tips, city spots, tourist info and info about the USE-IT network. The maps are very diverse in their style and design but always share the same philosophy: made by young locals for young travellers, non-commercial, always free and up-to-date. Every year a team of locals has to check whether that bearded barmen still serves his specials at the bar around the bridge, otherwise they can lose their membership.
USE-IT praises local traditions and diversity, makes fun of cultural oddities and stereotypes and helps us to have a more personal, meaningful relationship with the place of our choosing. The beauty of USE-IT is that the locals don’t take themselves too seriously, which is part of the fun. For example, USE-IT Nicosia provides a list of commandments of being a true Nicosian including: thou shalt never be on time, thou shalt speak really loud, thou shalt know everyone and thou shalt take football as your only religion. They have also provided a very handy local coffee guide:
USE-IT Maps give you the potential to create a memorable and sometimes unexpected holiday itinerary for yourself. My trip to Prague resulted in a hunt for the most bizarre and strange sculptures that the city has to offer, like a statue of a man hanging from a rooftop looking like he might be contemplating suicide. This statue became a local joke with many concerned tourists continuing calling the police to the bronze man’s aid.
All maps are available online or at hostels for free, and there’s a free app (only available on iOS) the most exciting feature of which is a little dog that walks the same route outside of city center at the same time every day, acting as a symbolic meeting point for all young travellers. Despite financial difficulties to publish a map, Nicolas Marichal called themselves a “map making factory” saying they would never prefer a digital format over an old-fashioned printed map that you can touch, turn or fold in any way you like.
Images: USE-IT EUROPE
Other Image: Wikimedia Commons